The Run


Here it is ladies and gentlemen, in all it’s unedited glory, all 10,600 plus words of January’s story of the month, The Run.  Tell me what you think. I still haven’t read it from front to back.  Hope it doesn’t suck too much.  🙂

Enjoy

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Before the scheduled 5.62 mile run,  I look up and to my right, to the dimly lit front window of the apartment where I and my wife live.  There is no movement, no motion to indicate that anything is going on there.  One light is on, off to the right of the window, venetian blinds drawn, one slat out of place, pulled on too many times and permanently out of place.

Light from the street light shines dully on my hooded sweatshirt, hood down, revealing to anyone who passed, stains that won’t wash out from previous runs and outings at various eateries from other days and the words “NEW YORK RANGERS” across my chest, my black hat covered in cat fur, blue sweatpants, and grey and orange beaten trail shoes, stained from months of long running to a much deeper shade of grey than the manufacturer intended.

My wife is just under and beyond the window, writing words for complete strangers for money, like all good writers do.  Standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, I wave to the window, even though I know no one is looking.  Wave goodbye to the person who isn’t there, who isn’t waving back.  She’s busy, and I am as well.  I’m OK with that.

I level my gaze, and look up the street to scan the incoming traffic.  There are two pairs of headlights shining brightly in the distance, light dancing and glancing off of the street and the other cars.  The cars are staying still, the cars are not moving.

I look at my stopwatch, zeroed out, ready to start.

The cool winter breeze is coming in at my back, it is too cool to carry any scents along with it, or my nose is too stuffed, one of the two.  The street lights afford only minimal lighting, enough if you are underneath them but nothing approaching enough light to do anything significant except lose the house-keys that you’ve dropped, and not trip over the dimly lit pile of garbage that is sitting in the darkness, just past the cone of light that emanates from above.

I’m ready to run.  So.  Go.  Start the stopwatch as I lift my left foot to begin.

With the first step one of the cars that was sitting parked with lights on decides to come down the street.  In five steps I am a quarter way across the street, and he is just pulling out from in front of his apartment, 7 or 8 doors up.  His semi-expensive looking Beemer looks like an animal waiting to pounce, the cars body a sleek but dull burnished grey, headlights set low and wide shine like hunters eyes reflecting a deep hungry malice.  But for all that, he is too far away to be a danger to me. I turn to look at the lights coming at me. The sound of his motor humming is not quite the hunter in the shadow sound that one would think would come from a car that looks like that.  It sounds quiet.  Not too quiet, a good quiet, like the first notes of the New York Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Fourth symphony.

Then he honks his horn.  It sounds weak and pathetic in the distance.

Drivers like horns, they are loud toys in the hands of loud people who enjoy being loud.  I toss the moloich at him, devil horns, pinky finger and index finger extended, thumb holding the other two down, straight at him, and quietly mouth the words “fuck off” at him.  Two can play this horns game.  Mine is quieter, but is meaner and means more.

In ten strides, I am across the street.  The wind picks up and changes direction like it always does.  It is rare for a winter night, that it is in my face at this point, when it is normally at my back, and it is trying to slap some sense into me I think, trying to convince me that running is too hard to do in cold weather.  I don’t listen.  As a matter of fact this is a part of the run that dictates the pace of the rest of the run.

This is the small incline, call it 100 feet long, from the other side of the street I live on to a spot 2 houses down.  The incline isn’t much but it is not the  incline that makes this a crucial spot for dictating my pace the rest of my run.  It is because it is the first stretch of open road I run into, and if I can get my legs moving really quick here, and it’s foot turnover not stride length that matters, then I will keep that pace, more or less for the rest of the run.

So speed is crucial here for a fast run.  And since I want to move with some speed today, I push fast here.  Normally I run with what I think of as a pedaling motion, very round, knees, feet, ankles and hips all aligned.  Here though I am willing to forsake form somewhat in pursuit of speed.  Instead of landing with my toes pointing straight ahead, I land with toes pointed out slightly,like a hockey player trying to build speed. I try to keep my form as regular as normal for as much of my lower body as possible, but the hockey player speed up does splay my lower legs out of kilter just a bit.

The car that was making noise behind me disappears and turns the other way behind me, gone forever, or at least until my next night run.  There are no cars around for this section of the run.  It takes barely 50 steps, a little past the end of the small incline, to reach my first turn, the right onto governor.

It is a remarkably short incline and speed up, but it does it’s job. I’m now moving at what I tend to think of as regular speed.  Roughly stated it’s about 8 miles per hour, or thereabouts, which is a pace I can run at for some length of time, but which is at the same time, a difficult pace to maintain.  It isn’t top speed, I’ve got two full gears that I can hit above the speed I hit here, but it is fast, and those two other gears are VERY fast, so fast I can only maintain them for short distances, and I am looking for a maintainable medium to long distance speed, not speed that’ll make me feel like my lungs will fly out of my nose in 2 minutes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I cut the turn about as sharp as I can, with the outside of my right foot scraping the curb as I run by the corner.  I am on the road to the park start point, at this point on a series of short streets that are a right, a left, another right, and a final left before I hit the uphill. I keep my feet moving fast, and see car headlights in the distance, at the end of the block.  These look nothing like the ones from the last car.  These are just headlights on a minivan.  The minivan sees me, and moves towards the middle of the street as I run along the edge of the street.

As I pass them some 30 seconds later, I wave and thank them.  After the van passes I move to the middle of the street, and get ready for the next turn.  What was a strong breeze has died out, blocked by both houses and surrounding hills.  The lighting is still no good, but my eyes are at this point, perhaps 90 seconds to 2 minutes in, accustomed to the half light.  And what was a small incline and then a level run, is starting to become a short downhill.

And here I again start to try to push faster.  Not that I’ve been slacking, I haven’t, far from it, but it is easiest to gain speed on the downhill, and I run as fast as I can here.  There is almost no sound.  No traffic, no people,  just the wind and my breathing and the sound of my feet hitting the ground.

Often enough, I try to think of a song to run to (I never wear headphones) something that has a strong fast beat.  Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire” or “Metal Militia” usually fit the bill for that, but some days other songs are just there and the rhythms fit my stride perfectly.  This run I had Black Sabbath “Am I Going Insane” dancing through my skull.

Metal and running makes for fast runs.  Plus dance music sucks.

The downhill gets more pronounced as I run into the first major traffic of the run.  OK, major traffic is a bit of an overstatement.  It is the closest thing on this particular run that I will get to it, and it is an intersection on a primary street, if you can really call it that.  The intersection of Rice and slosson avenues is pretty small.  Rice runs for all of four blocks distance, and slosson, while longer is only 2 lanes wide, and this spot is only 1 block from the streets terminus.

It has traffic on occasion, but not really tonight.  I get across fairly easily, and the downhill is about to come to an abrupt end.  As I turn from slosson onto rice, the downhill turns into a steep uphill along with a short sharp turn.

The transition is jarring.  One second I’m on an easy downhill with momentum at my back, coasting almost, with the wind most winter nights, and 3 steps later, there is a large daunting looking hill, and the wind is suddenly whipping in my face, and I have to give every ounce of energy I have just to maintain the pace I was running at easily a mere 2 or 3 seconds before.

The portion of hill I am looking at is steeper than heartbreak hill in Boston, and the part I am running on is mostly broken somewhat obstructed sidewalks, broken by trees growing in close proximity to the sidewalks, pushing large chunks up and breaking others, and obstructed by bushes that jut a full foot out over the sidewalk.  On special nights, like tonight, there are garbage cans out on the sidewalks as well,  leaving as much as 6 whole inches of unobstructed walkway for a runner to go by.

Did I mention this is an affluent neighborhood?  If it is normal for me to make the point that rich people don’t get rich by spending their money, it would stand to reason that they also don’t stay rich by fixing their sidewalks or leaving them uncluttered so us non-rich people can sweat on them when we go past.

And with the hill and the wind becoming more prominent, it is also time for me to grunt a bit more as I run, and also for my mind to wander just a little.  My form is set, I know where I am going, the precise path I am on, what I can expect from the wind and weather, being out in it it’s hard not to be, so it’s here, after getting back onto the sidewalk that I relax a bit.

With my father’s passing less than a week ago, I ruminate an awful lot about that.  Thoughts of the unfairness of his death at such a young age(67 is too young) pass through my head a lot, and I think it again here.  I’m not going to shed tears here, there are too many other things going on, I tell myself as a tear falls down my cheek.

With the lyric to the song that was dancing through my skull a minute ago running through again “Am I Going Insane?” I think this.  I apologize to dad for everything I’ve ever done and anything I can’t quite remember, and just being a pain in his ass when I was young and drunk and stupid, and even later when I was older, sober and just as stupid.  I tell myself the tears that are forming are from the wind.  And maybe they are… a little.

– – – – – – – – – –

I realize that thinking of dad got me past the hardest part of the hill without much thought about the effort, as I jump over a small broken piece of sidewalk, past some ugly shrubbery, and get close to the turn that takes me to a longer shallower incline, which after the ascent I passed without so much as realizing, seems to exert som kind of hard pull on me, and actually feels more difficult to do than the steep ascent.  It happens like that sometimes though.

The big part of the hill seems almost easy, and the top of the hill, where the ascent slows, before it flattens out, actually seems more difficult to run than the bit that was supposed to be harder to do.

Go fig.

As I run past the dog walker, the 105 pound elderly woman and her 7 pound rat dog who take up more space than seems possible for two things that are so tiny, I take a funny step and feel something happen to my knee.  This happens a fair bit with me.  My left knee has been a mess most of my adult life, since an accident where I was hit by a cab some 20 years prior (that’s another story.)

I curse long and loud.  I can here the dog skitter behind me, and hear the old woman gasp.  I care, I don’t want them thinking I’m a nut, but I’m also in pain, and the pain is my only voice at the moment.  That pain that hits is both sharp and hard, and immediately turns my run into a controlled speedy, limp. It almost reminds me of a car getting a flat tire.  One leg is just fine, stride unaffected, the other is a mess, with every revolution it is lower to the ground than it should be, making the entire chassis wiggle funny.

The inside of my left knee is on fire.  Sometimes I can mitigate the damage without stopping.  Sometimes, but not all the time. I try to hold down the pain without the stopping running in winter on a windy night, which would suck.

If I alter my stride by leaning forward, and twisting my foot slightly when I land so I land with my foot aimed a few degrees to the left, and pushing hard (but not too hard) on that leg to the inside, towards my right, while slowing down, it might help.  It doesn’t always, and I have on more than one occasion had to walk home from wherever I was when it happened, which is a bitch in winter, but sometimes you have to deal with a bitch.

On top of all that going through my head, I think it could be worse because this usually happens on flat ground, I’ve never had it happen on a hill before, and I’m hoping the hills doesn’t make it more difficult to handle. I don’t notice the stride alteration having much effect, and I begin to think that I may have to stop, but something clicks in my knee after about 30 seconds, and all of a sudden the run is easier.

Can’t recall as I’ve ever had it resolve itself quite that fast before, but I tell ya, I don’t mind.  I’m instantly happy, because I no longer have to think about walking home pissed off because I couldn’t run, because I’m not limping along, I’m running, and because I have successfully distracted myself through two of the more difficult parts of the run.

I hit the turnaround point, gingerly, I don’t want to press my luck by either turning too fast and doing more damage to the knee or pushing off too hard and doing the knee in that way, hit the turnaround slow and gentle, and go back the way I just came.  I see the woman whose dog was walking her start to cross the street as I make the turn, and the wind, which seemed to go away when I started to have the problem with the knee, kicked in for the third time.  Again like a hard slap in the face, but the winter wind at that corner always does that.

Guess I must like being slapped around by the wind.  Who knew?

Car headlights coming from the other direction blind me, make it hard to see. I squint while running at night, never a good thing, and get my left foot caught up in a small branch that fell from one of the trees in the area.  It catches in my shoelaces and comes around and breaks on my other ankle.  It’s a small branch though, so I ignore it, and keep going, simply noting it.

I’m getting to the point where I am starting to move pretty fast again, where I am happy that my knee isn’t going to implode, and the uphill that passed a scant two minutes ago is back, but now I’m running downhill, and again concentrating on speed, after not being able to for a while.

– – – – – – – –

Now, when I speed up like I am here, I alter my stride in my upper body by moving my shoulders in a more exaggerated movement, and actually do something I think of as bad form when running, namely wasting energy by pushing up, instead of just forward.

I try my best in most circumstances to keep my stride as level and even as possible, and on occasion during warmer weather I wear a chain when I run to make sure I run level.  I place the chain on top of whatever shirt I am wearing.  I have to run level when I do that, because if I don’t, the chain will smack me in the face.

I’ve had fun before, that isn’t it.

But I’m not thinking of my form here, I am doing math in my head.  Doesn’t sound like the most fun one can have, but it has a purpose.  I hit the .82 mile marker in 6:30 and change, the time on my casio stopwatch is too hard to read to make out more than that.

The math is real simple, if you’ve done it every day.  An 8 minute mile is the baseline.  So if a mile takes 8 minutes, 0r 480 seconds, a tenth of a mile takes 48 seconds, and a hundredth of a mile is 4.8 seconds. So an 8 minute mile should take for that distance should be around 6:33.

6:33?  Oh crap!  I’m running slooooooooooooooow!!!  Then again I had the knee act up on me, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.   But I refuse to make excuses, and increase my stride rate on the downhill after figuring out just how slow I was going.  Once upon a time, when I was first starting up night running, i did not have the confidence to just go all out at night, I was afraid of tripping over something I did not see.

I don’t have that little handicap at this point.  I turn my stride rate up as fast as I can manage, ignoring the knee that is still feeling tender as I start to increase speed, because that speed increase is not making the knee worse as I push harder on it.  Plus I’ve run this particular section of sidewalk hundreds of times now, and I know it like the back of my hand.

Headlights, streetlights and people are now on the periphery of my consciousness.  I’m ignoring everything but the run itself.  I’m thinking “run like there’s a cop chasing you and you did something to piss them off.”  As I hit the turn, while maintaining my speed, I have to jump over several breaks in the sidewalk.  The breaks themselves are only a few inches high, but the jumps  feel higher than that for some reason today.  Dunno why.  Maybe because I’m pushing with a little more ferocity, a little more purpose in my stride.

The wind turns and hits me in the face yet again, which it has done a number of times tonight, and will no doubt do a number of times after this.  Variable winds are a bitch sometimes, and I when it hits me hard I lie to myself saying I don’t mind the colder weather and the wind, but somewhere deep inside I do.  Somewhere deep inside I really don’t mind the warmer days that have come around for most of this winter, don’t mind the climate change, even though I know the damage it is doing to the planet.

Because I am a selfish bastard some days, and frankly when I am running it is all about me, especially when I am thinking of time.  But I only think like that for a moment, for only that single moment, when the whipping wind whips my face, when the gusts make me cringe with their sheer intensity and ferocity.

The best thing to do when the wind hits like that is to hit back.  But how do you hit the wind?  You don’t silly, but you push harder, or tell yourself you are pushing harder, it makes it seem like the increase in speed, or the seeming increase in effort at any rate is pushing back against that which is pushing me.  It is an excellent training tool, perhaps the most useful one in my arsenal.

Why the most useful?  Simple. I live on top of a valley, and run in that valley.  That valley acts like a wind tunnel. It is windy a lot here, except in the summer, so if I think of pushing harder and  faster into the wind as a training tool, and run in wind 9 days out of 10, I’m going to be doing a lot of high intensity training.

So I hit back, and lie to myself again about how much I enjoy this.  But the lie becomes truth.  I hit the steepest part of the downhill, and while I am flying with the wind in my face, i’m paying attention to the road ahead.  There’s a car pulling out of a driveway further up, and I’m not sure if I’ll have to slow down to run ahead of the front end of the car or even stop and wait for him to move out of my way.

I let the thought of jumping over the cars hood like in the old 70′s TV show Starsky and Hutch for just a second before smiling and putting the thought away.  I’m silly and a little crazy, but not that reckless.  But the guy stops  and pulls back in to his driveway out of the way after starting to pull out.  Forgot something I guess.  Lucky me.

100 more feet and I hit a right turn.

The right hand turn I take on this corner on this part of the downhill is a tight one, non-navigable on either side, and it makes for a very tight turn with the momentum of the downhill behind me. One side has a sign for the baby doctor on the corner right near the edge of the sidewalk, the other is grass, but it is several inches lower than the sidewalk, and falling into that while trying to make a 90 degree turn is a great way to twist an ankle.  I’ve done my ankle in before, and have no wish to go there again.

I lean right, and brush close to the doctors’ sign while running as close to the inside edge of the sidewalk as is possible.  After about 100 more feet, I am off of the docs land and on park land. I lost a little speed making the turn, and make no real try to make up for the loss.  My eyes are darting to and fro, checking the run path here for anything on the path. I’m on a section of parkland, and there is usually some detritus on the ground from falling branches and the like here, and the lighting here is worse than anywhere on the path, so I have to be careful.

– – – – – – – –

I notice a branch on the ground, thick as my forearm, about 5 feet long, but low enough to the ground to be hard to grab and move on the fly .  I try my best to lean down and grab it while at full speed anyway, but it does not work, I touch it, but only just, I graze the damn thing.  In the process of trying to grab it I feel my almost terminally tight right hamstring tighten on me yet again.  I positively bark in pain, but the tightness isn’t so bad that it causes me to stop, or even slow down, it is just an annoying pain in the ass.  Literally.  The tightness in my hamstring actually starts at the top of the muscle, and frankly it feels like a bee sting on my ass.

Nothing funny about this pain in my ass. I yell “FUCK” as the pain hits, and then a string of “goddamnitgoddamnitgoddamnitgoddamnit”s come out, barking my displeasure at pain  twice in the run from two separate spots within 10 minutes or so.

An aside:

I’m at this point less than half way through my run, and I’ve already tweaked my knee and my hamstring, but neither bad enough to actually stop me, had to dodge traffic and a dog walker, and have sped up (and slowed down) several times.  This is by no means an atypical run.  Most runs have some level of pain involved, unless I’m really taking my time, which I rarely do.  Pain is a constant companion, but that pain comes with something that makes the hurt palatable and entirely worth it.

Being in good enough shape to run as long as I want at an age when most people are getting fat and grey.  To be at my physical strongest when I need it most.  If I need it (and I do every day) I have more endurance than most people 20 years younger than I am, and when I want it, I am stronger than most everyone my size because of the conditioning I put myself through.

Back to it.

The tightness in my hamstring makes me shorten my stride a bit, but being on a downhill, I can easily make up for it by increasing my stride rate.  Just make up for it by moving my feet faster, and I do.  The downhill is steep, and the path is dark, I think about looking at the stop watch, but decide against.  Too dark.  Unnecessary. And my mind is elsewhere.  Much of the time I run I simply am thinking of other things.

I think about politics, I run through the events of the day, both on a personal level and on a larger level. My wife, my health, my cats, my family extended.  I on occasion say prayers for people in my life, and on occasion go over what I want to write.

Here I’m thinking about my dad and his passing, and about what I want to say on-line about it.  I’m feeling like I failed miserably when I eulogized him a few days before, and want nothing more than to make up for it by being uplifting and strong and subtle and powerful.  It leaves me thinking much about my distant past, when I was a young child and my father was a young man, younger than I am now.

I can picture in my head, as I am making the right turn at the lowest point on the run, playing football with my father, not more than a few hundred yards from the spot I am running on right now, at the age of  7 or so.

I can picture as I pass the hill where kids in cold snowy weather go sledding, my father and I and my brother John doing the exact same thing, sledding down the hill, only instead of using the latest in plastic crap that kids use for sledding now, using an actual sled, with rails, metal painted red, wood lacquered, turning using ropes attached at the lead edges.

I can picture skating on the lake that I am passing, back when the lake froze solid enough for people to skate on it when I was about 5 years old, falling down and cutting my lip badly on the ice.  I can remember being taken home by my parents, crying my little eyes out.

I remember going to the zoo, whose parking lot I am passing a great many times when I was a little boy, loving the snakes and the monkeys and being a little bit afraid of the lion, even though my dad and mom told me he had no teeth and wasn’t going to do anything.  I was afraid, but honestly a little let down by that.  I don’t know that I offhand looked to see his teeth.  I was 5, I wasn’t thinking things through quite that thoroughly.

The zoo parking lot is on the beginning of an uphill that runs for about a mile or so, and the hill is about the best lit portion of the entire run, being on a main thoroughfare.  As I run this part I begin to rock my shoulders in a more exaggerated motion, while keeping breath linked to motion.  Two steps, breathe in, two steps breathe out, two steps breathe in, two steps breathe out.  The breathing is a timing mechanism, helping keep up the pace, as the stride rate is a timing mechanism, helping keep breathing precisely regulated.

I’m breathing hard and fast, but that’s because I’m moving fast and running uphill.  190 or so steps a minute, around 47 breaths a minute.  All things, despite tight hammies and a slightly sore knee, are good as I hit another hard uphill on clove road.

– – – – – – – –

Cars are flying by faster here, and there is more crap on the sidewalk, tiny rocks and small pieces of glass and the like.  As I run here I on occasion end up with some small crap of some variety in one shoe or the other, and today is no difference.   And I deal with it the usual way, by scrunching up my toes a few times in mid-stride until the damn pebble or whatever it is is no longer in a position to stab me in the bottom of my foot.  Sometimes I have to stop to take it out, if it is large enough or is too much of an issue, but that isn’t the case here.

When I am scrunching my foot, the smell hits me for the first time during this run.  Car exhaust.  One of the problems in running near a major thoroughfare is the amount of pollution you run into.  There are cars and buses screaming by in both directions, and this being around rush hour, there are a lot of them.  As a consequence, the whole place smells like the ass end of some ugly 70′s piece-of-shit mobile.

And everyone is running rich, at least it smells that way. Buses pass by, belching smoke.  Cars pass by belching smoke.  A drunk walks by belching and smoking.  Which is OK, seeing how I belched back at him.  Trained professional I am.  Professional what exactly I leave for you to deduce.

I look around with greater frequency at this point, because there are driveways that I am passing, and small side-streets that I’m passing. I don’t want to get my ass flattened by someone who isn’t watching where he or she is going because I was dumb enough to not watch where I am going as well.  The side passages going into the cemetery that I pass on my right are safe, there is no one there after dark, at least no one with headlights that I need to be aware of.

As I come to the first of the small side-streets past the cemetery I am momentarily thrown by a parked car that is jutting out part way in my path.  The light shining from cars coming from behind me give the appearance of the  cars blinkers being on.  I am ready to either stop and let him pass or run behind him.  Then I notice that there is no one in the car, and figure out it was just the light from cars lights behind me making it look like a car with blinkers blinking.

I look to the sky for the first time.   It is a clear sky, but with the light pollution that is endemic to New York City there is not much in the way of stars in the sky, and the moon which a scant few days before was full is shining in the sky, making it difficult to see any but the brightest stars.  I can make out one star and the moon in the early night sky which is clear, mostly.  A wisp of small clouds, like traces of cotton floating gently, grace the dark sky in small strands.

I look and enjoy for the moment, but the moment passes and there are more obstacles to overcome.  The light from the condos that overlook the park behind them and the road in front is not quite blazing, but isn’t dull either.  It gives extra light to the people on the bus stop who move quickly out of my way as I pass.  One of the two has headphones on but sees me, and gives me room to pass. The other person, who is completely oblivious, is not in the way, and I pass through, waving and yelling my thanks as I go..

The hills here are not small, and are steep, but are short and fast hills.  Several hundred feet of downhill immediately follow several hundred feet of uphill, followed by several hundred feet of shallow downhill, followed by several hundred feet of shallow uphill.  Kind of like a roller coaster.

Check the watch, too dark to read, but I  make out what I think is an “18″ where it reads minutes.  If I know my pacing, that would put me at the turn around point at 21 something, which is not a bad pace.

When i’m racing the clock, I can’t win or lose, but I try to keep a good time so I can tell myself that I’m still fast.  Which is kind of funny, because I was never really that fast.  I’ve only been running for 9 years, I’m in my 40′s and I never had any formal training.

It’s running.  How much formal fucking training do you need?  I’ve read the books, and the magazines about how to run, where to run, the different types of running (found my favorite word ever reading on this, that word being Fartlek)  And then I read this book by this guy named after my favorite Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniels.  It is INSANELY complex, or at least daunting, and I give up after about 30 seconds of reading.

Well, maybe you need formal training to become an elite level runner, but to be a middle of the pack runner like me?  Put on running clothes, toss on shoes, grab stopwatch, and go.  Life becomes simpler when you give it a chance to be simple.

– – – – – – – –

As I come up on the side entrance to the park, I am not trying to run super fast, nor am I focused on my stride rate, or length, or anything else like that.  I’m just running, and I’m happy.

I look to my right and I am looking at the park, there is a small playground for kids, though it’s now dark and deserted.  I look to my left and I see the terrain of the golf course, closed for the night,the hills and trees in silhouette.  Cars passing with lights glaring, and stereos thumping steal any chance of peace during this part of the run.  Doesn’t really bother though.

The noise is just that, noise, and there’s always noise of some kind here. Not the noise of a busy urban nightlife, just the sound of traffic, of people going from one place to another.  If you pointed at this place on a map, it would be point C.  Point C is a spot more or less at random between point A and point B, not someplace anyone goes to, in particular.  It’s just a spot on a map, just another part of the journey from where you were to where you want to be.

Beats being nowhere I guess.

It’s point C to me as well, though every point of every run is point C for me.  Points A and B are the same place.  Home.  I was home when I strted, and I want to be home.  Home with my wife after a long days work.  Home with my wife to hear her complain about the things in her life, to help her vent so she can stay sane enough to live her life and do what she needs to be happy.  Home to boast about my run time, or complain about it.  Home to hear about how I smell because of all the sweating I always do.  Home to feed the cats.

But running is a destination as well as a journey.  It’s a nice spot, here running uphill towards the corner of clove and victory. There is no pedestrian foot traffic to speak of, the weather for a January night run isn’t too bad, and despite my knee and my hamstrings acting up before, I feel pretty good right about now.

This place is the place that I am trying to be at when I run. So rather than push harder here I keep the pace I’m at.

I pass what’s called “Stonehenge”, which is an odd name, because there aren’t any giant stone monoliths around, or burial mounds for that matter, and it is inconveniently 3000+ miles away from the nearest henge of any type that I’m aware of.  What it is, is a small building that houses the NYC parks department headquarters for Clove Lakes.

The lights were on, and there were a few people still there, couldn’t tell how many, I was running after all.  A car horn honked as I pass, and reflex kicked in as I yelled “SHOVE THAT HORN UP YER ASS” at whoever it was.  I yell that at everyone who beeps near me when I’m running.  Normally runner’s are very polite people, but I dislike car horns being used that close to me. My hearing is bad enough, I don’t need the extra damage to my hearing, thank you very much.

They paid no never mind.  Passed a few houses before I got to the Dunkin Donuts that used to be a gas station.  As I get to the corner, I touch the green box on the corner on the light pole. Junction box of some kind, methinks.

Check the stopwatch.  21:40.  Not so bad.  Half way home.  Feeling good.

– – – – – – – –

As I make the turn after the half way point,  the traffic at the light is 5 cars or so deep, I glance and see one person looking at me, but the headlights from the other cars in the area make it difficult to see much else.  I am now running in the direction of  the oncoming traffic, and with them being as close as they are to the light most of them really aren’t a problem, it’s the ones that are closing in on the light that shine in my eyes and make it hard to see where I am going.

It is one of the many minor annoyances that comes with running at night.  I’m heading back down the gentle downhill towards stonehenge, and besides the headlights blinding me, there is really not a major lot going on.  My mind begins to wander again, thinking of my work situation, wondering what my wife is doing, singing the song that was, is, and still going through my head to myself.

Thinking of dad.

I wonder if the people where I work even noticed I was missing when I was out at my fathers side.  I wonder how much longer the work assignment will last, being a freelance employee that is a thought that sits heavily upon my mind.  My wife is probably doing what the hell ever she was doing when I left, so that stops me wondering my wondering in that vein.

The Sabbath is flowing through my head, and frankly I am really enjoying it.

I think a few cars have passed me by, I am zoned out at this point.  On auto-pilot as far as how much attention I am paying the outside world.  I am locked in on not only the random thought generator that is my evil ugly head, but keeping my stride rate high and moving with some level of quickness, around 190-195 steps per minute, around 32 or so steps per minute, slightly more than 3 steps per second.

There is something very fun about running zoned out like that.  It is the best downtime, the best stress reducer.  It is the time during any run that comes closest to being a kid and splashing in puddles.  It is let your hair down, scream and shout fun, almost as much fun as a mosh pit when your 22 years old.  It is a place where the hardest running that I can do becomes easy, becomes a place where everything feels good, and the harder I run the better it is.

I hit that spot near the beginning of the smaller hills, and I attack them with gusto.  I push past a few kids that are walking around not paying much attention to anything, walking towards me.  For some reason one of them is actually surprised by me despite the fact I am actually coming at the group.  Some people just don’t pay attention.  The other kids moved out of the way, and I said thank you.  It’s nice when you run into (not literally) people who are nice when you are running.  I’ve run into people who aren’t, and I tend to think of them less as people, and more as targets.

But that’s another story for another time.

I jump up to the sidewalk, which because of the uphill, feels like a  foot and a half high jump.  I know it isn’t that much.  I don’t mind though, I’m a runner, stuff like that comes with the territory.  Jumps are not much of a concern, to be noted and not much else.

More cars, more headlights.  Those headlights are an issue at first, but they become less so as the run goes on.  Looking over the rim of my glasses dead ahead or even slightly askance, away from the street is about the easiest way to avoid it being an issue.  It goes without saying DON’T LOOK AT THE LIGHT, but you don’t have to in order to be affected negatively by the light.

The light can’t pull me out of the zone, any more than the hill can.  I am flying now, and having fun.

– – – – – – – –

And then the tug on my right hamstring pulls me out of my reverie.  Damn thing.  Twice in one run.  I thought I was fine after the pain dissipated before, but apparently not.  Now, it isn’t too bad at first, but it is noticeably. tighter than before  My stride immediately shortens and I slow down just a bit.  The cars seem to have finished passing me by for the moment, giving me the opportunity to snarl and yell “FUCK” as I run.  I am just a hair annoyed at this. There is soreness in an area and there is injury, and having been injured in the past, I do not want to push myself so hard that I take that soreness and turn it into something worse.

There is no way to alter stride to counter a hamstring strain of any variety, from very minor, the kind that will barely be remembered tomorrow morning to the kind that bruises the back of your leg and keeps you from running for a month.  You either keep running, in which case it isn’t bad but could get worse over time, or not, in which case you’re fucked.

This is the first kind luckily.

I passed the other streets without anything of note happening.  Nothing caught my eye, and that is how much of running is when I’m locked in.  I prefer runs that are like that from beginning to end, all runners do.  “Duh!” and other such statements.  These small issues with minor pain here and there really just go to show that even through harder runs there are times when it is good to be a runner.

I am at the cemetery heading back downhill, passing the cemetery entrances.  I have taken my foot off of the gas, and am seeing if slowing down will make the hamstring feel better, or at least less stressed.  If I feel less stressed, maybe I’ll be able to just bull my way through and pick up speed before all is said and done.

My feet hit the ground hard at the second cemetery entrance, and my hamstring absorb the shock.

Not a happy feeling.  The pain shoots straight up the back of my right leg into my butt and lower back.  I don’t stop, but I am gimping along just a bit.  I’ve been worse, but I’ve been better as well.

The step I took at that second entrance was dumb.  I know how to land light on my feet, but still I didn’t do it. I’m a runner dammit, I am supposed to be friggin better than this.   This is goddamn stupid.  From here I practice light stepping.  Landing as lightly on my feet as possible, almost gliding, feet barely leaving the ground on any stride, pushing much harder off from the front of my feet.  It’s a bitch on my calves, but it makes for softer landings and takeoffs.  And that is what I need now.

As I reach the final cemetery entrance, I am just annoyed as hell at myself, still steaming, but being very watchful of surroundings and self.  Glide over the edge of the sidewalk, float up the other side.  Run with my feet skimming a ½ an inch over the sidewalk.  Not pushing hard, but trying to keep the fastest pcae I can keep while playing it safe.

A difficult thing to do at the best of times.

Notice an ambulance in the zoo parking lot as I get near the corner where I turn off of clove road.  I think to myself ” Why did he move?”  They usually park a block or two away.  Doesn’t matter, I wave, toss the moloich at ‘em.  I don’t know that they see me wave at them, or if they wave back, or toss horns at me, or what.  There are no cars at or near the corner as I make the turn onto martling.

A few branches on the ground here get me moving away from them, just to avoid jarring myself too much while running.  The downhill here is jarring enough.  I have less than 2 miles to go, and while the hamstring is still an issue, I’m just going to push through and do what I can to finish.

The wind hits me in the face, and it is a chill wind here, it seems to be a few degrees colder here with the wind coming off of the lake, which has been frozen on and off for the last month and a half.  Even with these warmer temps, it’s been iced over for periods this January, like it is tonight.  As I look to my left, the darkness over the lake and the park are starkly beautiful against the night sky, lending a beauty to the landscape above what it normally has during daylight.

– – – – – – – –

Running downhill with my feet barely leaving the ground, I am moving faster than expected.  This is surprising to me, as I am actually trying to simply minimize foot impact on the ground, trying to keep from jarring myself too much and damaging myself.  Speed here is not the point. I am feeling a little fragile thanks to the hamstring and knee issues, which is also surprising, seeing how I usually feel three shades of invincible when I am out there running, even with minor tweaks of this variety.

Perhaps I need to relax and take a few days off.  After all it has been a long time since I have had any scheduled downtime from running.  I think this as I hit the turn near the park at the lowest point on the run, the lowest point in a topographical sense, about 80 feet above sea level.  The emotional low came a few seconds after I tweaked my hammy the second time.

I think about days off, and laugh.  I can’t take days off.  Not that I’m so crazy about running that I couldn’t take a day off.  I usually have to take off a few days a month, just because of my schedule.  Work commitments, family commitments, that kinda thing.

But take days off without there being a simple lack of time? Because I need a day off?

Please.

I start to move up the hill and again surprised by the speed I am running with.  But then again, I’ve tweaked myself several times this run, I’m frankly surprised that my ass hasn’t tried to fall the hell off.  I pass the hay bales that are positioned not very deftly between the street and the sidewalk for sledders who would want to sled down the hill on my left.

They could have left the stuff in the barn.  It hasn’t snowed significantly all year. Once in October, and once a week and a half ago, and both times the snow was less than 3 inches and had melted within 48 hours.  All it really does is take up space on the sidewalk and give dogs something else to piss on.

One of the street lights seems to not be working as I hit the corner and hit the hill on Slosson, which has on it in part, the steepest uphill of the run.  Pass it without much thought.  I look up, and notice that there are more clouds now than at the beginning of the run.  Not expecting any inclement weather, and not worried about it.  If it rains tomorrow I won’t fret none about it tonight.  It’s a bit chilly but not too bad.  After 30 some odd minutes out on the path, I am ready to lose the Rangers hoody.

I don’t though.  It is one of my favorite pieces of run clothing, I’d just as soon toss my run shoes, or my cookies as toss it.  The uphill is something I barely think about, despite beginning to feel a tug at the back of my right hamstring.  I just keep my nose to the grindstone and go.

There is a collection of twigs and other small branches at the employees entrance to the park, where all the truck  and employees pull in to gas up their vehicles, and park when they aren’t cleaning or working at the park.  Guess a truck dropped a little of it’s payload on the way into the garage.

No worries, go around it and the mud that has settled into a mess at the edge of the storm drain near there, pass the dog walker with her little white poodle like dog, whose owner is trying to keep the white poodle from getting into the mud and dragging it all over her nice clean carpet.  Schotzie is the name of the dog, I believe that is what she called the poor poofy thing.

Schotzie was more interested in the smells that the area provided than the carpet of her human, whose job as far as she is concerned is to feed and groom her, in return Schotzie takes her human out for exercise, and also to have the privilege of watching Schotzie piss and shit.  I giggle as that thought runs through my mind, and wave to both dog and human, who were kind enough to move aside when I came towards them.

I look ahead to see if there are any more dogs or humans on the paths.  Nothing for the next minute or so, so I take up trying to remember what my time was at my last turnaround point in an attempt to calculate what time I should get to the next turnaround point.  If I am doing well, I should be able to run the entire section in about 14:40 or so, making my projected turnaround time, at least for a decent pace, at 36:20.  But with my hamstring as it is, a 37:40 would be almost acceptable. I’d prefer a faster time, but I’m not expecting it.

I get near the sign at the pediatricians office, and am not surprised to hear horns blaring at the corner, more because the street light the city put here last year is a complete nuisance.  People run it all the time, and nearly cause accidents every day, and once in a while do cause actual accidents, because the people who run the lights don’t think anyone is looking or paying attention.

Which is surprisingly true, because the stupid bastards who run the lights generally don’t look or pay attention.

It was only an annoyance this time, not an accident.  I pass it with my usual “SHOVE THAT HORN UP YER ASS”  Which is this runners way of saying “HI!” to the noisy drivers.

– – – – – – – –

I hit the second half of the hill after the right turn and feel the hill get harder, I have to push significantly harder on this section just to maintain my pace, and that is just what I do, maintain.  After three minor tweaks during the run, I will not chance a major one.

I pass the second house on the block and notice the auto timer has turned on their security system, as the lights to the front yard go on as I pass the front portion of the house across from where the front door is.  This happens every time I pass by their house after 8:00 pm, or before 6:00am.  Good to know their security conscious, but if I can notice that, so can a crook.

The house is nice, even if the external security seems giggle-worthy.  Then I have to run the garbage can gauntlet.  I ran past them on the way down, and it is just as much of an obstacle course on the way down.  The same as when I passed them in the other direction, but this time I have the added pleasure of running the gauntlet while running uphill.  No more difficult (except that it is uphill), just another nuisance  on a less than perfect run night.

Pass the garbage cans, with a snide comment about ,like Sidewalks are for walking, not garbage you idiots, wanting to come out should anyone from these houses come out.  I would not use it, but I’d keep it in my head and think it, wave and say “Hi!”  Which doesn’t happen either.

They stay inside, I keep going.

The hill is remarkably easy this time around and I am not questioning it.  But I think I know why.  There’s a few reasons, one the wind seems to have died down, it is negligible at this point. I after having done in my hammy twice am feeling like not much more can happen, outside of some kind freakish accident.  And I am feeling refreshed, not a second wind, I haven’t used up my first yet, but I’m feeling good about being where I am, like I usually do at this point in the run.

Cracks in the sidewalk, which garnered my attention before, barely grabs it now.  The car parked around the bend just uphill from where I am gets more attention.  It looks familiar from a distance, and I gaze at it curiously, if furtively while hitting the long curve onto Royal Oak road.  As I get closer though, any resemblance to the vehicles of anyone I know or would recognize dissipates to nothing.

Some dog walker that is walking two small dogs on my left near the paved walkway entrance to the park holds his dogs back and waits for me to go through.  I think I’ve seen this guy before.  I can’t remember if it was tonight or not, so I keep my head down and go.  The wind began to pick up just a little bit as I passed, but not so much that it did what most wind does, which is inspire me to push harder.  It was a breeze more than a wind really, and for all that I sometimes bitch about wind and weather, after a while, you get used to it.

Ya kinda have to, don’t ya?

My right hamstring is little more than a minor nuisance now, I’ve nearly forgotten my knee issue and I decide that a big push will come but not until I get to the end of this section of the run, which is now about 2 minutes away.  I am breaking a serious sweat and I like it.

I look up to the sky momentarily thinking of dad and sing to myself  Everybody’s looking at me/ Feeling paranoid inside/  When I step outside I feel free/ think I’ll find a place to hide.  I love that song, and it’s been there on and off for the entire run, which, again, is normal for me, just singing a song that’s in my head while I run.  It makes the time go faster, and Am I going insane is a good pace song.

I pass a parked cabbie, livery car driver actually, parked near to my turnaround point.  Same guy is there a few nights a week.  He does his crossword puzzle or whatever section of the paper he’s reading, oblivious to the world, and everything in it, except his coffee and his paper.

I hit the turnaround point, look at the watch 37: something or other.  Can’t quite read it, but I think it said 21.  I’ll take a 37:21.

The wind which was with me for a second on the uphill hits me full force as I make the turnaround, for the trip home.  I like that.  I always push hard into a hard wind.  My strides are getting longer as I run harder towards home, and while I am still running with my feet still barely scraping the ground, I am striding faster as well.  Over 190 steps per minute here, and the world for a minute becomes a blur, wind makes it hard to focus on anything but the wind, so I keep my head down and keep my eyes on the path itself, and just chug along, as fast and as hard as I can.

I ignore the cars that are now going by, ignore the dog walker walking his two dogs who I pass again on the way downhill.  I am trying to make up for lost time.

I can feel my heart rate rising as I hit top gear, or as close to it as I get on a regular nights run.  Sidestep several branches and the overstep the cracks and breakages in the sidewalk, and focus one one thing.

Home.  I just want to get home.

At the top of the hill where Royal oak  Road becomes Rice Ave, I see the light at the base of the hill has just turned green.  Which is a good thing for me.  The way I have this run timed, and I have done this a ton of times, If it is green facing me when I am at the top of the hill, by the time I get to the light, It will have gone through one complete cycle, and I will not have to stop and wait for traffic.

Nice.

Zooming down the hill like there is a cop behind me and I’ll go to jail forever if he catches me.  And I like it, the feel of speed, of pure… adrenaline isn’t the right term, but it kinda feels like an adrenaline rush, without the harsh negative emotional and physical effects of it.

Flying.  Hit the light at  40:30.  My hamstring has stopped talking to me, and I like it.  Knee is fine.  I am running down the middle of the street, there are no cars coming that I can tell, and I concentrate on looking at my feet as I run.  Curious thing to do, but I do it here.  My feet are moving very fast, I can no longer keep the Sabbath song as my pace song.  I’m moving to quick for it.  I make a left hand turn at fairview, and there are two trucks parked side by side, taking up most of the street.  I run past, ignore them.  Look right as I prepare to turn left.

Nothing coming that way, headlights from my left though. Too far away to have to worry about though, so I don’t.  I begin to lose the breath to body link, no longer able to keep my breathing  at the right ration, 2 steps for one breath, and start panting as I run.

Almost home.  I’m pressing with all the energy I can muster.  I know I can keep the pace for the rest of the run.  I’m smiling as I’m panting as I’m flying and it is just great. Best feeling in the world.  This is why I run, to let it all hang out at moments like this.  I make the turn onto governor and the wind hits me hard again one final time on the home stretch. I don’t mind.  It likes to hit me here, does it almost every day at the end of my run, as if to say “Good run, see ya tomorrow.”

I know it’ll be more of the same tomorrow.    The final 30 seconds.  I tell myself to be careful crossing the street here as I get near home.  There is a street I cross just before I come home, and I don’t wanna get flattened just before I finish the run, any more than I wanna get flattened anywhere else.  There are headlights at the top of the hill, just the same as there were when I started the run as I cross that section of road.  No cars coming down the street like when I left.

Cross the finish at 43:40.29 for my 5.62 miles run.  Not a bad time. I made up some time on that final hard push.

I am pretty happy with the effort.  About five seconds after I stop I start my cool down, just walking up the street, blow my nose, spit, cough, hiccup.  I get the hiccups and cough like crazy after every hard run during the winter months.  If it was October or May I wouldn’t but during the winter I do.  Cold makes me do it.  Always fun.

I don’t mind though.

I look up, and my wife is still not at the window, but the lights are still on, just as they were.  The street lights are still shining dimly, but now they are shining on my heavily sweat stained hooded sweatshirt, and on sweat soaked gloves and hat and me.  I’m coughing, hiccuping, and smiling.

Good run.

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